Transhumanist Advent: Jesus rebuked the fever

"And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them." (Luke 4:38-39)

Certainly there are many cases where fevers are life-threatening even today, but we often think of fevers as an inconsequential symptom of illness. Today we have largely "rebuked" the fever through  antipyretic drugs and therapy. But how did this happen? And what does that tell us about the role science and technology can play in emulating the works of Jesus?

While the origin of antipyretic therapy is not known, ancient people's have long known about the antipyretic properties of plants like the leaves or bark of willow and myrtle plants. These treatments were diluted in their efficacy, however, without concentration of the ingredient with the antipyretic property. It wasn't until 1763 when the first scientific, clinical application of these properties was studied by the Reverend Edward Stone as he systematically administered willow bark to 50 patients suffering from ague (malaria) with positive results.  He submitted his findings in letter to the Royal Society of London.

In 1829 the French pharmacist Henri Leroux isolated pure salicin from white willow and demonstrated its antipyretic properties. Building on that work, in 1838 the Italian chemist Raffaele Piria hydrolyzed salicin into salicylic alcohol from which which he produced salicylic acid. Then in 1874 the Scottish physician Thomas MacLagan conducted one of the first clinical trials of salicin as he treated rheumatic fever.

With the chemical process and formulae defined and pharmaceutical application studied, industrialization began immediately. In 1829 Kolbe and Lautemann began commercially synthesizing salicylic acid which lead to its commercial form: sodium salicylate which gained widespread popularity. However, adverse side-effects limited its application.

In 1897 the German chemist Felix Hoffman who worked for Friedrich Bayer and Co., in trying to derive a substance from salicylic acid which could avoid these side-effects, succeeded in acetylating the compound's phenol moiety to produce acetylsalicylic acid into a stable form. This was then commercialized as a drug called “Aspirin” in early 1899. One theory of why the name "Aspirin" was used is that it comes from the patron Saint of headaches, St. Aspirinius.

The the turn of the century many variations of the compound had been created which include: antipyrine, antifebrin, phenacetin, acetaminophen, and pyramidon. These were followed by phenylbutazone, the fenamates, and indomethacin, developed in the 1900s. However, the exact mechanism by which these drugs exhibited their properties was unknown.

By the 1970s experiments showed that aspirin-derived drugs limited the formation of prostaglandins by disrupting the cyclooxygenase (COX) activity of prostaglandin endoperoxidase synthase. A hypothesis was formed of the existence of multiple forms of COX with various tissue distributions by observing that acetaminophen inhibits prostaglandin synthesis in the central nervous system but not in other tissues. It wasn't until 1991 that this was proven. Today, work continues to lessen or eliminate the toxicity that still remains in aspirin. And nano-technology promises even greater possibilities in drug administration on the horizon.

The history of how we have developed modern medicine is fascinating as it has relied on the joint effort of physicians, chemists, industrial technology, and biological sciences. It is through the persistent use of these tools that we have come to regularly "rebuke" fevers which was a work that Jesus exemplified so long ago. And it illustrates how technology, science, and industry are instruments for us to use as we seek to do the works of Jesus to heal the sick. Science and technology hasn't replaced God. Science and technology is enabling us to become more like God and Christ.

-Caleb Jones


Source: 'Brief History of Antipyretic Therapy' by Philip A. Mackowiak, Oxford Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases

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